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Previous blogs on the topic of IWD have looked at the struggles in the developed world, and the on-going challenges we face. For a huge proportion of women however, the battle is not just about equal pay but the right to basic things such as education, work, and the freedom to dress and speak as they wish. Whilst we seen some progress in many parts of the world in gender inequalities, significant gaps persist in some countries.
According to the United Nations, about 35% of women around the world have been victims of physical or sexual violence. Some 200 million women and girls have been subjected to a form of genital mutilation and 700 million have been married before the age of 18.
Many of you will recall the brutal gang-rape, torture, and murder of a girl on a bus in Delhi in 2012. This was a case that shocked and enraged India, sparked protests, and made international headlines. The Indian government toughened jail sentences for rapists and overhauled policing procedures in the wake of that gang-rape. Yet, rapes are still occurring on an alarming basis in parts of India. Some reports suggest as often as every 30 minutes.
India’s attitude to sexual violence came under renewed scrutiny in May 2014 when two teenage female cousins were raped, murdered and hanged from a mango tree in a small village, and in 2016 when a 15 year old was raped and burnt alive. These are just a handful of the reports. These recent cases of rape and violence against women or children in India further underline the persistence of such violence despite the public outcry years ago that led to stronger laws to prevent sexual assault.
Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Guinea, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Bangladesh have the highest rates of child marriage, despite moves to strengthen law enforcement and toughen penalties against the crime. Child brides are often denied the chance to go to school, are isolated from society and forced into lives of economic dependence as wives and mothers.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls are affected by Female Genital Mutilation which is seen as “normal” in many countries over the world. In certain cultures and countries, female babies are not welcomed as much as male babies and female infanticide is rife. These practices continue largely due to a combination of social acceptance, government inaction and lack of law enforcement.
Women still die every year giving birth, and the female literacy rate in certain parts of the world is atrocious. Women across the world are viewed as unequal and seen as a man’s property and cannot make decisions without the approval of the men in their families. In some countries, such as Brazil, abortion is treated as a taboo because it’s illegal by choice, and many women die every year in attempts to have illegal abortions.
Gender-based violence and misogyny exists all over the world. These are just a few examples of how women’s lives are simply considered not as important as those of their male counterparts in certain countries around the world. This is why IWD is so important.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom - there is light. The world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. All over Latin America in October 2016 the movement #NiUnaMenos ("Not one less") rose up against "femicide" and abuse of women after the brutal murder in Argentina of a teenage girl who was drugged and gang raped. In India, the Gulabi Gang (Pink Gang) movement also rose up formed of sari-wearing Indian women activists as a response to widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women.
IWD is now celebrated in more than 100 countries across the world. IWD is also recognised as an official holiday in many countries including Afganistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China (for women only), Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Nepal (for women only), Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. International Women's Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action - whatever that looks like globally at a local level.
We, as women all have struggles, but perhaps one of the pertinent messages stemming from IWD is that we should think about and support our sisters around the world and their struggles for basic rights.
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